August 11, 2017

Movie Review: Kung Fu Yoga

The prospect of a new Jackie Chan movie fills me with excitement and a little bit of dread. Jackie will always be a charismatic figure. Whether he is on the screen, in an interview, or just walking down the street, he will always be that happy go lucky guy that I would love to sit down with. With that said, he is not getting any younger and his kung fu skills are not what they used to be. The last film of his that I saw was Chinese Zodiac back in 2012, that movie was downright dull and uninspired, despite Jackie’s presence. So, when Kung Fu Yoga arrived, I approached with trepidation.

One thing that eased my nerves was that this movie saw Jackie reteaming with writer/director Stanley Tong. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, he was behind a few of Jackie’s best loved films, including Rumble in the Bronx, Supercop, and First Strike. They last teamed on 2005’s The Myth (which I have not seen) and that is the last time that Stanley Tong has directed. I am not sure why he waited so long for another project, but I am glad to see him back with Jackie Chan.

Kung Fu Yoga is pure fantasy presented as reality, or rather, it is reality, but an impossible one. As soon as it begins, with an animated battle that transitions into a lecture by Professor Jack, it is not going to be constrained by any reality or cynicism. It is an adventure that seeks to strengthen relations between China and India by sending them on an epic journey to find a long lost treasure. It can trace it roots back through National Treasure and all the way to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Of course, if you reverse that path you can see the increasing ridiculousness of the genre as it steps further away from reality.

So far as this movie is concerned, it is hard not to like it, but that isn’t for lack of trying. The movie is so upbeat and likable that it really takes someone with a highly cynical attitude to be completely turned off to what it has to offer. Of course, the stretches in between the set pieces can be a bit mind numbing. If you try to follow the plot you will likely be left in the dust, it is so ridiculous and just non existent so as to be a detriment. It helps that at one point when they are close to a clue Jackie says: “Just like Indiana Jones.” They don’t attempt to disguise the movies they are riffing on.

When the movie gets to the set pieces, be it a car chase through Dubai or an all out street fight in an Indian bazaar, they are always colorful and energetic. This is the best choreography that Chan has had in years. I would hazard a guess that he is happy to be working with Stanley Tong again and that happiness translates into energy on the screen and effort in the fights. Yes, there are others there to take the weight off of Jackie’s shoulders but Jackie still shows he has some speed and agility left. I have to admit to being surprised by how well he was moving in this film.

Kung Fu Yoga is not about the acting or the plot, it is about the upbeat fantasy and colors and Jackie Chan doing what Jackie Chan does. This will never be considered a Jackie classic, but it is a good example of how much his personality can carry a movie. This movie would not be nearly as likable as it is without his presence. Really, the movie is objectively a stinker, but his presence and Tong’s direction make it a much more enjoyable experience.

Mildly Recommended.

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